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Who Is Responsible for Workplace Health and Safety?

Posted by EHS Insight Resources on October 19, 2020 at 3:47 PM

Pop quiz: who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace?

If you’re like most employers, that sounds like a trick question. The answer is employers, right?

Here’s a hint: the answer isn’t as straightforward as you think. And while employers have a significant responsibility for safety, that responsibility is more nuanced than most employers realize.

Under the OSH Act

The most obvious source of health and safety responsibility is the legal responsibilities spelled out under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). Those responsibilities are extensively spelled out in the law’s various standards, but the most direct statement of responsibilities can be found in the General Duty Clause.

The first half of the General Duty Clause is the one most people are familiar with: employer responsibilities, which read, “Each employer — (1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.”

Sounds simple enough, right?

Keep in mind, however, that there’s a second half of the General Duty Clause which doesn’t get nearly as much attention, “Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.”

The Distribution of Legal Responsibility

It makes sense that most employers emphasize the first half of the General Duty Clause. After all, it’s the part that OSHA generally relies upon in citations and the half that directly applies to employers. Plus, the bulk of legal responsibility for safety lies with employers.

However, the second half is not to be neglected, and the fact that it usually is points to a fundamental misunderstanding of safety responsibility at work.

In the end, the employer is ultimately responsible for safety. This is not to say that everyone else in the workplace is free and clear. Quite the opposite.

Employers, Managers, and Individual Responsibility

When you turn a critical eye to your legal safety responsibilities as an employer, they’re more complex than they seem at first blush. Think about the balance of wording.

As an employer, it’s your job to provide a workplace reasonably free of recognized hazards and comply with health and safety regulations in doing so. It’s your employees’ job to comply with occupational health and safety standards applicable to their own conduct.

Keep in mind that as an employer, part of your job is making employees aware of safety and providing an environment where everyone fulfills their obligations under health and safety regulations. In plain English, this isn’t saying that employers do all the work. It’s saying that everyone is responsible for safety.

As an employer, it’s your job to equip everyone to do their part.

Managing Health and Safety in the Workplace

If everyone is responsible for health and safety, then everyone is equally responsible for their safety contributions. Which is all fine and good, except for the part where coordinating an entire team for safety is more complicated than it sounds.

That’s why we’re here to help you understand the finer points of your safety obligations, with compliance software that makes it easy to stay one step ahead. If you’re ready to take a smarter approach to safety compliance, get in touch today to learn how our software can help.

Related:

Topics: Workplace Health and Safety, Risk Management, EHS Management, Incident Management, Safety Management, Safety Culture, Human Resources

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